I was doing a little Facebook trolling the other day. Because I am a frequent flyer I pay a lot of attention to travel related posts. This one from farecompare.com caught my eye. “A few years ago, Houston airport received many complaints about baggage wait times. In response, they moved baggage claim further away so the walk was longer than the wait. The number of complaints subsequently dropped.”

Of course I googled it even though farecompare.com noted that it was “100% true.”

Turns out it is true but the quote left out some important info. First of all, before they moved anything, Houston airport officials hired more baggage handlers and the wait time dramatically decreased but the complaints did not. Then they decided to do an in-depth analysis and that is when they found out that it only took fliers a minute to walk from their arrival gates but then they had to wait another 7 minutes for their bags. Airport officials decided to move the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the carousel that was farthest away. Complaints plummeted. Why? Passengers took six times longer to get to the carousel. Problem solved.

We hate to wait

Elizabeth Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield

We hate to wait. Not only do we hate to wait, we also go out of our way to overestimate how long we have waited when we are forced to wait. Uncertainty about the length of the wait coupled with unoccupied time is your customer’s worst nightmare.

What can you do? Well, you could always hire Richard Larson, the MIT operations researcher who is considered to be the world’s foremost expert on lines. Or you could spend a couple hours in your customers’ shoes and figure out where and why all the waiting happens. Once you have identified the wait, use your imagination to fix it. Don’t be afraid to try an unconventional solution, remembering Houston airport as a model.


Off the top of my head I can come up with two places in which your customers have to wait: the waiting room or reception area, and the fitting room, also known sometimes as the treatment room. What can you do to ease the wait time?

You might find a solution if you research what other businesses do to reduce wait time. If you worked for Disney before you went into O&P you might decide that you should have an estimated wait time clock in the reception area that was always 5 minutes to 10 minutes longer than the actual wait time so that customers were always pleasantly surprised that their wait wasn’t nearly as long as they expected or were told. That is another example of underpromising and overdelivering, which I wrote about in an earlier column (O&P Business News, August 2013).

© Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

If you worked at the Houston airport before you went into O&P, you might decide that occupied time is better than unoccupied time. You might give people a new set of paperwork to fill out every time they come in. You might decide that everyone needed to be weighed, measured and then walked to the farthest treatment room where they were required to watch a diagnosis or device-related video.

Televisions are often found in the waiting room, but honestly, if you can’t decide what to watch at home, how are you supposed to decide what a roomful of people are supposed to watch together? If you provide reading material, be sure it is current and relevant to your patients. Business-appropriate and consumer and news magazines are good bets; Guns and Ammo, perhaps not.

In the fitting room, after a patient watches a video or leafs through a magazine, a member of your staff might want to check in to ask a few questions, or offer a cup of coffee or water.

Some people might say the key is to keep people from having to wait in the first place. Although that is the ultimate goal, even if you saw your patients as soon as they walked in the door, they most likely will have to wait at some point during the patient care process.

Houston had a problem — a waiting problem. They fixed it. What can you do to reduce your wait time?

For more information:
Stone A. Why waiting in line is torture.

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